Time and Eternity
Sony PlayStation 3
Like a misguided chat-up line, Time and Eternity is a JRPG that – despite some interesting design ideas – comes across as flawed, misogynistic and deeply problematic. In a year that has seen more than its fair share of JRPGs, Time and Eternity stands out with a bold art style. Originally titled Toki to Towa in Japan, players control the split personality of Toki and Towa – a time-travelling princess denied happiness when ninja assassins launch a surprise attack on her wedding day. Travelling back in time to six months before the wedding, Toki/Towa must use her powers to find out who was behind the attack, why it happened and how to change the future. Joining her on this quest is her fiancée, his personality transmigrated into the body of her small, blue pet dragon named Drake. Mixing traditional hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D environments, Time and Eternity certainly stands out amongst the retro-styled and lolicon JRPGs that populate recent releases. A focus on 2D animation recalls Studio Ghibli’s involvement with Ni No Kuni; 2D that unfortunately turns out to apply to more than visuals, namely characters and the wafer-thin plot.
After a string of quirky but ultimately underwhelming JRPGs ranging from the traditional, po-faced Agarest series to the well-intentioned but problematic Hyperdimension Neptunia games, the art design of Time and Eternity immediately inspires curiosity. Simply looking at the box-art reveals a different, more painterly style than the usual colour-explosion that wallpapers every Akihabara store – a style that is confined to the box-art and nowhere else. There isn’t an intro movie consisting of a para-para dance nor is there even a scrolling prologue. Instead, a caption appears: “The Day Before the Wedding”, set against a ticking clock. Could this be a Majora’s Mask race against time? Within half an hour you’ll curse yourself for even thinking of the acclaimed Zelda.
Time and Eternity is a constant stream of raised expectations and crushing disappointments. The first of these is undoubtedly the animation. What looks fresh in passing reveals itself to be a combination of two different mediocre styles – lazily animated 2D characters and empty, frequently reskinned 3D environments. Aiming for as close to anime-like presentation as you can get, most dialogue scenes seem fully-animated although shortcuts are soon discovered. Frames are missing – noticeable whenever a character turns around – and each character has a handful of different expressions which loop for as long as needed. A few hours in and you’ll realise that there are only a few character models and that most are rescaled, palette-swapped repeats with some tweaked stats. Even Toki and Towa are alternate versions of the same character model, hair changed from candyfloss pink to lustrous blonde.
Were Toki/Towa the main character then things might not be so problematic beyond the shonky art design. Unfortunately, the real protagonist of the game is her fiancée. Initially presented as the perfect love interest – gallant, handsome and charming – he’s soon revealed to be the definitive pervert. Once transported into the body of pet dragon Drake, his ultimate quest lies in getting in the pants of almost every female character in the game. Nearly every optional dialogue sees Drake try and finagle his way into a group bathing session with Toki and her friends, all of which also meet typical anime stereotypes. There’s the young, innocent friend; the motherly, high-class friend; the ditzy, shy friend. All have heaving chests and a propensity to spout double entendres. Toki/Towa follows suit – one personality is sweet and innocent, the other more assertive and feisty. Nevertheless, everyone tries to get in her pants too.
Some people find Drake to be a despicable character from the outset. Personally, it took longer to weary of his constant leering, perhaps due to a desensitisation towards this type of thing developed through multiple JRPG reviews. Even with this dulled reaction Drake soon became tiresome, dragging out the same jokes and phony tantrums. Were he of any use during combat then he might be forgiven but his attacks are as useless as he is horny.
The real meat of JRPGs is often the grind and Time and Eternity mostly does away with this, combining its streamlined combat with a dating sim approach. Combat plays out in realtime, with buttons controlling different attacks and blocks. Moving the analogue sticks sees Toki/Towa dodge attacks while each side of her character specialises in a different attack style. Toki is proficient with a rifle, preferring to keep her distance while Towa has a blade that works far better up close. With XP earned either character can learn new attacks and buffs alongside equipment upgrades and replacements. All of this would be wonderful if you could choose between Toki and Towa before it came down to battle. Instead, every time they level up Toki will switch to Towa and vice versa with no control over the character switching. In terms of narrative this is probably necessary to advance the plot correctly; in terms of player agency it’s broken. One of the most unintuitive, pain-in-the-backside fights saw Towa take on a Time Golem. By sheer dint of chance it was Towa who had received the latest batch of skill upgrades – unlocked only when reaching the next XP level – so was well equipped to take down the beast, albeit using a few medical aids. Finally defeating the Golem the game then chose to inform me that I hadn’t used a specific power so the fight was null and void but – no worries! – here, play it again. Oh, but the XP you just earned has seen Towa transform back into ranged-combat master Toki, underpowered thanks to a lack of skills. The fight began again, with the Golem immediately closing the gap and forcing Toki to use unfamiliar melee combat. Fight was lost. The game asked if I wished to retry the fight (still with Toki!) or go back to the last, sparsely dotted save point over an hour ago? I’ll choose the power button on the console thanks.
The lack of variation in enemies makes random fights a chore while secondary quests are notable for their lack of voice acting and adherence to the grind lacking elsewhere in the game. Between the stilted conversations, pointless exploration and unfulfilling combat there’s little beyond the main story that piques interest. Given that fact you’d be better off watching an anime than contending with a game with more padding than a cartoon girl’s br… well, you get the point. The dirty humour is corrosive and constant.
Beyond the accessible but monotonous combat lies the dating sim portions of the game. An attraction meter measures Toki and Towa’s affinity towards Drake, altered through findable ‘date’ triggers scattered around areas as well as binary choices during conversation. These are so blatantly obvious as to be laughable, reducing responses down to Option A) chivalry personified and Option B) sex-pest. The problem – beyond the insulting simplification of attitudes towards women – is that it’s impossible to tell who prefers what and by how much each action affects the meter. The reward isn’t especially amazing anyway, giving the player a few more optional events and inane conversations.
Among all of the disappointments there are a few glimmers of irreverence – the story hides a few strange non-sequiturs including an assassin fan club obsessed with baking and some admittedly funny voice delivery. The soundtrack is also a step or two above the usual muzak, although the slapstick track used during ‘comic’ moments is possibly the worst noise imaginable, sounding like a bag of flatulence. The inclusion of 2D is a bold and distinctive choice and, were the hand-drawn aesthetic given more attention, the game might be raised above its lacklustre state. These small moments do little when surrounded by a quagmire of pointlessness.
Time and Eternity could have been a game about split personalities and the dilemma of a love triangle between two people. It could have explored relationships and still retained that funny irreverence it tries so hard to capture. Yes, this game is a product of a different cultural attitude and people may have to assume a different point of view to ‘get it’, as some JRPG fans might claim. But that can’t always be the excuse, especially in such a changing gaming landscape. Unfortunately it has no outstanding merits to justify this niche point of view, ranging from mediocre at best to extremely insulting at worst. Rather than the suave, impressive chat-up line it could so easily have been, Time and Eternity instead sashays up to feminism and blurts ‘I like your boobs’ like Seth Rogen’s menacing delivery in Donnie Darko. It could be a misjudged line but it’s not attractive and it’s not funny. It’s just plain creepy.